NEWSMAKERS

By KA Badarinath

Once a tea vendor, Narendra Modi—now a main candidate for prime minister of India—has come a long way in the past 30 years.

The 63-year-old Modi has entered the fray for the May 2014 election race as the nominee of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a right-wing political faction headed by pro-Hindu party BJP. He will take on the country’s first political family, Indian National Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi, who are known to run the INC as a private fief.

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Modi, a four-term chief minister of west-coast state Gujarat, has bolstered the prospects of the NDA ahead of upcoming elections to Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s Parliament. Known as a no-nonsense administrator, he has augmented his appeal at numerous large rallies and whistle-stop tours and through high-tech outreach via social media outlets, webinars and the like.

From the day he was named the NDA’s candidate last month—after an acrimonious showdown with his mentor and BJP patriarch LK Advani—Modi has put the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government on an uneven footing.

NaMo to his supporters, Modi is considered a polarizing figure by some market watchers, especially after the 2002 riots in his state, when minority Muslims clashed with security forces. But the Indian corporate world is more than happy to see him elected prime minister. In fact, 74% of Indian corporate leaders surveyed in September by Nielsen and the leading business newspaper Economic Times wanted to see him named PM.

The $100 billion Tata group chairman emeritus, Ratan Tata, was full of praise for Modi at an industrialists’ meeting convened by the latter in March this year. Tata already has lucrative auto manufacturing operations in Modi’s home state, Gujarat, and the group pledged to invest $6 billion more in the state.

Globally, Modi also has admirers. British economist Jim O’Neill wrote on his blog recently: “Modi is good on economics.” And Chris Wood, chief strategist at equity broker CLSA, recently wrote: “The Indian stock market’s greatest hope is the emergence of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.”